I have cycled all the way from Sedro-Woolley to Concrete on the Cascade Trail and found that the leg between Birdsview and Concrete is the most scenic and interesting, at least for me. You can drive and park at various points along the entire route of the trail or can even ride Skagit Transit with your bike and get off at four different points along the trail, then catch the bus back to where you parked your car, downriver. See previous link for the details of how to do this. This is really only a ‘half day’ trip, but I would allow most of the day as you will probably run into some other things that interest you, as I usually do! The out and back on the trail itself is only about 13 miles for this leg. I highly recommend this leg for a hot summer day, 75% of the trail is in the cool, shady woods.
I drove ‘May,’ my Tracker, along with my Trek Mountain bike to Birdsview this time. This is also a good place to start as the Birdsview Brewing Company is in Birdsview, in case you develop a thirst with all that riding. I recommend a mountain bike for this trail; the condition of the surface is variable and can be potholed and washboarded in places. I parked right next to the trail adjacent to Russell Road. This is on the north side of SR-20, just past the Grandy Creek Bridge, MP 83.
Since this is a actual old railroad bed, the grade is very gentle. You will only increase your altitude from 148 at Birdsview to 276 feet at Concrete, 128 feet in 6 miles. This roadbed was part of the Great Northern line. East of Rockport, the line was called the Skagit River Railroad and was operated by Seattle City Light. Here is some history of the original City Light leg. (The picture to the right could have been taken in the same rock cut as the picture I took above. This was the last time that actual trains ran on this line, about 1976.) More on this later. There are numerous rock cuts and your path leads away from SR-20 and sort of meanders between SR-20 and Challenger Road, the original main highway in this area. At times the trail crosses Challenger Road and you can ride it for a ways, to relieve the bumping conditions that the trail exhibits. This is a step back in time from the speeding traffic of SR-20.
After a few miles, the shady trail opens out and goes right through the middle of Challenger Ridge Winery. What a surprise! This is a great place to take a break at the pond and take in the sights. The pond area on your left appears to be under the jurisdiction of Skagit County Parks. If the day is warm, you will really feel it as this is a nice south sloping field with row upon row of wine grapes, leading down toward SR-20, far below.
Heading east, you go right back into the woods for a few more miles. As you near the community of Grassmere, just to the west of Concrete, the woods give way to brush, then grassy areas, then streets and houses, then you know that your are almost to Concrete proper as the old cement silos loom into view. You can read more about the history of Concrete here. The truck in the picture has just taken on a load of water at the hydrant near the silos. A private label water bottling company in Burlington gets some of its water from here. The labels on the water bottles actually say from ‘Superior Springs.’ That is the truth, as the Town of Concrete gets its water from…..Superior Springs! The trail itself ends at the place where the original train depot stood, now a community center with a ‘train depot’ style.
Just before the end of the trail, you will notice a single old railroad passenger car sitting alone on a siding on the left side of the trail. It is in pretty bad shape. This is all that remains of the Skagit River Railroad, a short lived tourist train from the 1970’s. See more history of it here. This enterprise was given permission to use the original name of the railroad, run by Seattle City Light for many years on the same tracks.
At the end of the trail, go up into the town of Concrete, it is a real step back in time. If you follow Main Street to the east, you will come to a nice little park just before the old Henry Thompson Bridge. A beautiful structure built between 1916-1918 with concrete donated by the two cement companies in town. At the time, it was the longest single span concrete bridge in the world. Walk across it and feel the history. It was renovated and retrofitted about 2006.
Ready to head back? Don’t expect a nice down hill to the car or bus, you will hardly notice the grade, as you didn’t notice it on the way up!